Cardinal Dolan: ‘Outrage Over HHS Mandate Not About Its Coverage of Chemical Contraceptives and Abortion Inducing Drugs’

By Terence P. Jeffrey | September 12, 2012 | 1:01 AM EDT

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. (AP Photo)

( - Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and current president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a speech at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., on Monday night that the “outrage” over a mandate issued by the Obama administration that requires almost all health-care plans in the United States to cover sterilizations and all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptives--including those that induce abortions--“is not about its coverage of chemical contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs.”

Cardinal Dolan also said he was worried that protecting freedom of religion was "becoming caricatured as some narrow, hyper-defensive, far-right, self-serving cause," and that many noble causes in American history found their ultimate roots in religion, including the progressivism of Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and the peace movement that the cardinal said extended from the 1960s into the 1980s.

The Catholic Church teaches that sterilization, artificial contraception and abortion all violate the natural law and are immoral.

"I want to 'restore the luster' on this 'first and most cherished freedom,'" Cardinal Dolan said near the beginning of his speech, which was sponsored by the John Carroll Society. "See I'm afraid that the promotion and protection of religious liberty is becoming caricatured as some narrow, hyper-defensive, far-right, self-serving cause. Nothing can be more inaccurate. Rather, freedom of religion has been the driving force of almost every enlightened, un-shackling, noble cause in American history."

Toward the end of the speech, Cardinal Dolan said the threats to religious freedom in America were “abundant” but he was going to “list just two.”

“One comes from those called secularists, who will tolerate religion as long as it’s just considered some eccentric private hobby for superstitious, unenlightened folks, limited to an hour on the Sabbath, with no claim to any voice in the public square,” said Cardinal Dolan.

“Such, of course, is hardly ‘free exercise,’ as Michelle Obama recently pointed out: ‘Our faith . . . just isn’t about showing up on Sunday . . . it’s about what we do on Monday through Saturday.’

“The second omen comes from direct intrusion of the government into the very definition of a church’s minister, ministries, message, and meaning,” said the cardinal. “Thus, to say it again, the wide ecumenical and inter-religious outrage over the HHS mandate is not about its coverage of chemical contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs--in spite of the well-oiled mantra from our opponents--but upon the raw presumption of a bureau of the federal government to define a church’s minister, ministry, message, and meaning.

“As Cardinal [Donald] Wuerl noted,” Cardinal Dolan said, referencing the archbishop of Washington, D.C., “’The mandates’ definition of a religious organization contradicts decades of precedent and practice. Republicans and Democrats alike have long agreed that the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty includes not only what goes on within the four walls of a church, but also the religiously motivated acts of service that fulfill the mission of that church. Only now . . . has the government said that we must leave our conscience behind when we step into the public square.’”

In fact, the Catholic bishops of the United States have indeed adamantly objected both to the element in the Obama administration’s mandate that requires almost all health care plans to provide coverage for sterilizations, contraceptives and abortion inducing drugs and to the mandate’s attempt to narrowly redefine religious institutions as only those that primarily serve and employ members of their own faith and are primarily involved in inculcating the tenets of that faith.

The Catholic Church teaches that sterilization, contraception and abortion are evils in which Catholics must not be involved. In a unanimous statement adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops under Cardinal Dolan’s own leadership, the bishops declared that it was a violation of the personal civil rights of individual lay Catholics to make them--as employers or employees--provide or purchase health plans that cover these things.

“The HHS mandate creates still a third class, those with no conscience protection at all: individuals who, in their daily lives, strive constantly to act in accordance with their faith and moral values,” said the unanimous statement of the Catholic bishops. “They, too, face a government mandate to aid in providing ‘services’ contrary to those values—whether in their sponsoring of, and payment for, insurance as employers; their payment of insurance premiums as employees; or as insurers themselves—without even the semblance of an exemption. This, too, is unprecedented in federal law, which has long been generous in protecting the rights of individuals not to act against their religious beliefs or moral convictions. We have consistently supported these rights, particularly in the area of protecting the dignity of all human life, and we continue to do so.”

Cardinal Raymond Burke, an American who leads the Vatican's top court for Canon Law, told Catholic Action for Faith and Family in an April interview that he applauded the solidarity between the Catholic lay community in the United States and the Catholic bishops in resisting the HHS mandate. In the same interview, Cardinal Burke said it would be “formal cooperation” with evil for a Catholic employer to obey the mandate, saying there was “no way to justify it.”

“I admire very much the courage of the bishops,” Cardinal Burke said. “At the same time I believe they would say it along with me that they are doing no more than their duty. A bishop has to protect his flock and when any individual or government attempts to force the flock to act against conscience in one of its most fundamental precepts then the bishops have to come to defend those who are entrusted to their pastoral care. So I am deeply grateful to all of the bishops who have spoken about this and who are encouraging the members of their flock to also speak up because our government needs to understand that what is being done with this mandate is contrary first of all to the fundamental human right, the right to the free exercise of one’s conscience and at the same time contrary to the very foundation of our nation.”

Pope John Paul II (AP Photo/Eric Draper)

In his encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II restated the teaching of the Catholic Church that a manmade law that contradicts the natural law, such as a manmade law legalizing or facilitating abortion, is not a law at all and must be opposed.

“Now the first and most immediate application of this teaching concerns a human law which disregards the fundamental right and source of all other rights which is the right to life, a right belonging to every individual. Consequently, laws which legitimize the direct killing of innocent human beings through abortion or euthanasia are in complete opposition to the inviolable right to life proper to every individual; they thus deny the equality of everyone before the law,” said John Paul.

Pope John Paul II (AP Photo/Plinio Lepri)

“Consequently,” the pope wrote, “a civil law authorizing abortion or euthanasia ceases by that very fact to be a true, morally binding civil law. Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection.”

In his 1968 encyclical letter Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI affirmed the Catholic teaching that artificial contraception violates the natural law and that the church must therefore oppose it.

“It is to be anticipated that perhaps not everyone will easily accept this particular teaching,” said Pope Paul VI. “There is too much clamorous outcry against the voice of the Church, and this is intensified by modern means of communication. But it comes as no surprise to the Church that she, no less than her divine Founder, is destined to be a ‘sign of contradiction.’ She does not, because of this, evade the duty imposed on her of proclaiming humbly but firmly the entire moral law, both natural and evangelical.

“Since the Church did not make either of these laws, she cannot be their arbiter—only their guardian and interpreter,” said Pope Paul VI. “It could never be right for her to declare lawful what is in fact unlawful, since that, by its very nature, is always opposed to the true good of man.”

Earlier this year, when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius finalized the regulation mandating that most health plans cover sterilizations, contraceptives and abortion inducing drugs, many Catholic bishops had their priests read a letter from the pulpit declaring: “We cannot—we will not—comply with this unjust law.”

Archbishop Timothy Broglio, who leads the archdiocese for the U.S. military, was one of them. In  a letter he had Catholic chaplains read at Sunday masses for U.S. forces around the globe, he said of the HHS mandate: “It is a blow to a freedom that you have fought to defend and for which you have seen your buddies fall in battle.”

In his speech at the Newseum on Monday, after he said he was worried that the cause of religious freedom was being caricatured as a “far-right, self-serving cause," Cardinal Dolan then went on to chronicle what he said were the ultimately religious roots of a number of diverse political movements in the United States. These included the abolitionist movement to restore the God-given rights of those who had been enslaved and the civil rights movement to restore the God-given rights of those who had suffered racial discrimination.

They also included, Cardinal Dolan said, Woodrow Wilson’s progressivism, Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and the peace movement extending into the 1980s—which the cardinal paired with the pro-life movement.

“According to Richard Lingeman’s review of a [Michael Kagin’s] Godly Hero in the New York Times, Teddy Roosevelt’s ‘Fair Deal,’ Woodrow Wilson’s progressivism, and FDR’s ‘New Deal,’ are all direct descendants of this religious crusade called the Reform Movement,” said Cardinal Dolan.

“’Exhibit F’ would be the Peace Movement of the 1960’s and ‘70’s and ‘80’s, and ‘Exhibit G’ the premier civil rights movement of today, the Pro-Life Movement, both religiously driven,” said Cardinal Dolan.

To read Cardinal Dolan’s full speech, click here to go to the cardinal's blog and then click the link there for the PDF of the text.